Phase two

My husband is back at work this week. It feels like the end of a chapter – 3 months in, past the harried days and nights of the newborn stage. For weeks, my husband and I took turns holding the baby days and (some) nights while the other tried to “get things done”. Usually things were a shower, cooking a meal, tidying something up. In the mornings, we tag teamed to get the older kids dressed and set up for virtual school or out-the-door for in-person school. He held the baby in the car when I had an appointment. I held the baby in the car while he went into the store to get groceries. We ate lunch together (and if we got take-out, this was also eaten in the car because of COVID). One of us would stay home while the other drove to pick up the older kids. When we were less sleep-deprived, we checked off some items from our to-do list. We also watched movies, TV shoes and read books. We took walks around the neighborhood. I feel very fortunate that he was able to take 3 months off this time. We talked during the day about our kids – adult conversations, something we can’t do when 4 kids are in the house. This hasn’t been the case after every baby’s birth, and I can tell you that the toughest postpartum period for our marriage was when our third was born. He kept working because the baby arrived 2 weeks early and he had some things to wrap up at work. Then, because we had family help, he decided to save his leave for when I returned to work. But it was hard. As the only person who could help me overnight, he would stay up and then be tired for work. I leaned on him to help around the house as well and this was an added responsibility for him. In sum, I am grateful for this time we had together, and also feel a bit sad that we are closing the chapter on our newborn days. But, as my husband would say, “we’ve done it 4 times. I think that’s plenty!” And he is certainly right about that.

So this week, I am adjusting to our new normal. He’s working from home and I’m in charge of getting the kids ready in the morning, driving them to school, tidying up, planning meals and spending time with our littlest one during the day. I, again, feel incredibly fortunate to have this extra time with my baby. I also have to admit that this is the hardest part of maternity leave for me, because I do think there is an imbalance in our marriage when my husband works and I do not. It is especially exacerbated during COVID since I have no alternative social outlet at the moment. I take great pride in my career. I love working with and helping my patients. I respect the trust they have in me and think about them when I’m not at work. I also have amazing colleagues and feel so indebted to them for keeping me safe during my pregnancy and covering my patients while I am out.

As I start planning for my own return, I am having a hard time deciding what to do. I am worried about going back to work during the winter COVID surge, but also feel that it is my duty to do so since I have “sat out” the past few months. I am concerned about committing to a schedule since the kids’ schedule is so up in the air. There are potential quarantines if any of the children or teachers in the classes test positive, and the kids have also had to stay home for a myriad of “symptoms”. Once, my 4 y/o had a temperature of 99 and “was not acting like himself”. Another time, my 6 y/o thought he might have felt a sore throat but it was gone by the time my husband went to pick him up. He still had to come home and get a COVID test (it was negative). Yet another time we quarantined at home for 14 days because our 2 year old was exposed outdoors to someone who later tested positive for COVID. I very much appreciate how cautious the school is – so far they have had no COVID cases – but it also throws quite a wrench in any plans to work as I so hate having to cancel patient appointments. So, basically, I am now having to deal with COVID reality for working parents. I have had a reprieve during leave and it was immensely helpful during the start of this crazy school year, but now I find myself incapable of being decisive on what 2021 should look like.

For now, I am trying my best to set up some sort of schedule for my remaining days at home while mulling over the return-to-work possibilities in my mind. I am enjoying these last few weeks of snuggles because this is our last baby. Maternity leave seems like a slow uncoupling, in preparation of returning to work. First, there is the full immersion in your newborn – he is held in arms all night, worn in slings or carriers all day, nose to sweet-smelling newborn head. I am there for every minute of his day – obsessing over details like wet diapers, hours of sleep, when he last nursed and on and on. Slowly, there is a move towards (relative) independence. Trying to get him to sleep on his own at night. Working on a morning schedule – now so that he can join me on the car ride to drop off his brothers and later so that I can feed him before heading into work. Soon I will have our nanny hold him for longer stretches so that he can get used to her and her to him. We’ll try a bottle while I pump (we have never followed the “introduce a bottle early” rule with our infants. I know it’s not recommended but so far we have not had issues and it honestly just seems like more work). Maybe I’ll run an errand without him, leaving him home with my husband. And that’s how we’ll transition from spending almost 24 hours joined together to my being away during the day. Again, I am fortunate: I work full-time, but my hours aren’t terribly long. I don’t have to be separated from him at night. I have the option of doing some of my work from home. Despite this, it is clear that this next phase is bringing me closer, day-by-day, to being away from him for longer stretches of time. And even though it is a choice, it is still hard.

Gratitude

If you had asked me this time last year what 2020 would bring, I would have never predicted any of this. A global pandemic, working from home, our children out of school for months, wearing an N95 and face shield to see each and every patient, Zoom classes for a 4 and a 5 year old, walking around downtown wearing a mask, a scarcity of paper towels and hand sanitizer, not seeing our families for months…it seems surreal reading those words back, even though they are things that actually happened (and are happening) this year.

Someone shared this image with me today and it seemed so fitting to read on Thanksgiving Eve. As an adult, I recognize that this holiday is not the idyllic pilgrim/Native American bonding fest that I learned about in school. It also wasn’t a huge holiday in our home. We were immigrants, my parents disliked turkey and I was a vegetarian, so we only really started celebrating when my younger brother was in school because he found out that all of his friends were eating turkey! But through the years we have come to define this holiday on our own terms. At the very beginning of our relationship, my husband and I celebrated at his aunt’s home, a family tradition for them and my first introduction to the extended family. We would drive or take a bus to see our families. Once we moved out West, we enjoyed a number of Friendsgiving festivities, since the holiday break always seemed too short to fly out East.

This year, we will be celebrating alone as a new family of 6. We are ordering a traditional Thanksgiving meal, because the thought of cooking with four little ones running around and no one to entertain them is too much. We’ll surprise the kids with gratitude lists – a compilation of why their parents and siblings are grateful for them. We’ll watch the Macy’s Day Parade, run our own Turkey Trot (a 1 or 2 mile loop around the neighborhood) and choose toys to donate to a local school district. I feel more fortunate than ever to have created this sweet full nuclear family during this incredibly tumultuous year.

While compiling photos for our 2020 photo book, I began to see our adventures this year in a different light. So many photos of the local park, where we went for days upon days upon days, because it was close to home and had bike trails and few people – the place where our then 1 year old learned to ride his strider bike like a champ. Photos of us walking, biking and scooting around the neighborhood – devising different routes to spice things up. The countless workbooks and crafts we coordinated for the kids to do – so many pictures of them gathered around the dining room table working on one thing or another. The forts and pillow creations and countless games of “lava”. The bounce house we finally caved and bought, and how when the wildfires were raging we set it up in our living room to get the wiggles out. The summer weekends spent in an isolated area of the beach, the kids first venturing timidly to the water and then donning wetsuits and bodyboards so confidently that we had to move them to a beach that was safer for little ones to swim in. Reimagining birthdays – photos of home decor, cakes, presents. The time we celebrated the birthday of two stuffed animals in our home just to have an activity for the weekend (also learning that stuffed animals are now called “stuffies”). The boys spending most of the day half-naked in the backyard, doing all sorts of water play and venturing over to the “hot side” of the house to have their picnic lunch. A first day of school photo in front of a laptop and a white board when our oldest child’s school launched a virtual curriculum at the start of the year. So many great memories that warm my heart.

Like most hard things, the photos show only the good times. Missing from them is the fear as COVID-19 spread to our community. The uncertainty at the hospital – when do we wear masks? How do we screen patients? Will we run out of PPE? Seeing patients while pregnant, hoping I wouldn’t get sick. Coming home and showering immediately before allowing the kids to come close to me. The disappointment as we canceled trip after trip – wiping away tears when our children cried to see their grandparents. The fear of having to go to the ED postpartum and worrying about exposing my 3 day old to COVID. My oldest saying “I’m so sick of coronavirus. I’m tired of hand sanitizer and wearing masks. I wish things could go back to normal.” The weight of trying to make everything okay for your kids, when things in the world were so far from okay.

But we have been lucky. We have not gotten sick. Our parents have not gotten sick. My husband and I still have our jobs. We have not suffered financially. Two of our children are able to attend school in person. I am immensely grateful for all of that and more.

So this Thanksgiving, I am choosing to reflect on the positive notes in those photos. Years from now, that is ultimately what I will remember the most. A special time when all 5 (and then 6) of us were able to be safe at home together. No school, working from home, then maternity and paternity leave. A special time to bond while our children were young and wanted to spend time with us. My goal for the next few weeks, in anticipation of returning to work, is to enjoy these moments as much as possible. As difficult as they can be sometimes, I know that I will miss them immensely when they are gone.

6 years, 10 weeks, 4 days

This weekend, my oldest turned 6.

This week marked 10 weeks since our youngest was born. I need a name for him on here, maybe Baby A? We have already exhausted X, Y and Z!

Today is 4 days after the election was called for Biden/Harris.

So many milestones. So much change. All within a week.

  1. Our oldest, Baby X, now Child X I guess, has crossed over into a new era. He has lost his baby features. He is aware and cognizant of the world. He is losing some of his innocence – has questions about death and dying, understands that people are not always nice, rolls his eyes when annoyed, has started to notice that there are topics out there that we have not yet touched on as parents, topics that he will need to figure out these next few years. He is independent. He can shower alone, get dressed on his own, read – in fact, he is an avid reader, gobbling up books left and right. He is in kindergarten and, according to his teacher, a “model student” and a “model child”. He received a compassion award at his E-ssembly a few weeks ago. He is responsible, athletic, energetic, loving. We are so proud of him for being himself. Having a 6 year old makes me realize more than ever that the writing is on the wall – the years are short is not just a cliche. In the span of one more 6 year run he’ll be on the brink of adolescence, and more of his world will be a secret to us. Whereas now he tells us every thought that he has, once day he will hide some of those thoughts from us. In 6 more years he will be about to graduate high school, likely off to college. He is our rule follower, our anxious one, the most mature. I hope he always knows how much he was wanted – how his dad and I weren’t sure if he would ever be born, and how excited we were when he came to be. He taught us everything about parenting. Our lives are definitively divided up into before his birth and after his birth. After his birth, we were never the same again – in a good way.
  2. As time races on, our littlest one, Baby A, is growing by leaps and bounds. I am holding on tightly to these days, especially in light of my oldest becoming a child. He lives in the sling. We are always holding him close and at night we alternate holding him close (I am typing this while he sleeps on me while my husband sleeps in the bedroom). One day I will write out his birth story, but the important message here is that he was born healthy and I did well also, without complications. We made it to the hospital. No one got COVID. It always amazes me how small and defenseless newborns are. They can’t hold their heads up, they can’t do anything but cry and try to find a boob. His brothers love him to pieces – always trying to hold him and kiss him and “cawwy” him. I am always so nervous that he will get sick – breathing a sigh of relief after month one and exhaling more fully after we cross the 3 month mark (we are at 2 months now, 10 weeks to be precise). Like most of our children, he is a terrible sleeper. He prefers to sleep being held, on someone’s chest or, interestingly with this one – snuggled up in my armpit. We hired a night nurse for the first 8 weeks. After her last day we asked her to help us out 2 additional weekends but now we are on our own. It felt like it was time to move on. She was incredibly helpful but also wasn’t working towards trying to get him to sleep in a bassinet (she held him all night long) and we thought it was best to try to figure things out on our own. He pretty early on started doing a longer stretch first thing at night (usually 3-4 hours, something like 9pm-1am) and then a bit of a shorter stretch before morning. Now, the nights are a blur of him being in and out of bed with me. Sometimes my husband stays up a few hours in a row and watches us sleep while he plays video games, or brings him into the playroom to watch TV. Other nights, I’m on my own, trying to get him into the Snoo throughout the night, or sleeping as safely as possible with him in bed. He started smiling early, and by month 2 was definitely smiling at everyone. He outgrew his newborn clothes in ~6 wks. He rolled over from tummy to back a few times in month 2. At 9 weeks, he started trying to use his arms and hands. He has an adorable asymmetric smile, which I love. I wonder what his personality is like, how he will fit into our family.
  3. Finally, the election. I have to be honest, though I started this on 11/11, it is now 11/16. Where do the days go!? I am so relieved about the results of this election. I was devastated when DJT won in 2016. I couldn’t sleep, was up most of the night with a huge sense of dread. But I remember thinking (and writing) that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe he would rise to the occasion, maybe the people I knew who voted for him knew something that I did not. Well, I was wrong. The past 4 years have been a nightmare. When Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won, I was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. We sadly now have this whole “unwilling to concede” situation, but I am looking forward to the day when we have an actual leader who will take COVID-19 seriously, who will respect women as well as Black and Brown communities, who will not promote violence and white supremacy, who is not merely a charlatan.

So many milestones these days. These days are passing us by.

Waiting

Well, we somehow made it to mid-August and I will be 37 weeks tomorrow. 37 weeks is technically term and I finally feel like I can take a deep sigh of relief. We’ve made it to this point!

I have checked most of my nesting tasks off of the to-do list. My hospital bag is packed, newborn clothes are washed, two bassinets set up (one in nursery and one in our room). The car seat and base are the in the garage for my husband to install last minute.Our 3 boys have been sharing a room for a month or more and it’s going surprisingly well. The nursery closets have been rearranged and our bedroom has been reorganized to double as a nap station. Postpartum supplies are stocked for me, newborn diapers and wipes are stocked for the baby. We have hand sanitizer and hand soap galore. Tomorrow I’ll have help with the kids and plan to review my list to see if there are any last-minute items to tackle.

I feel ready. I’m anxious about going into labor, of course. As an obsessive planner, it’s difficult for me to NOT know when something will happen or how exactly it will happen. This time around we’ll have the added stress of needing to coordinate childcare quickly. Our families ultimately decided not to fly out. I totally understand their rationale. They are being incredibly cautious – not socializing at all, working from home for the most part. The idea of being on an airplane doesn’t jive with me either. At the same time, it’s difficult not to have family around for this. I’m super pregnant and my husband is working frantically to wrap things up before paternity leave. The kids are also a handful at the moment. It would be nice to have family in town to spend quality time with them and to offload some of our exhaustion. The situation is sad but I can’t perseverate over it – there’s literally nothing I can do. Our plan is to have our amazing nanny (who has saved us over and over again these past few months) “on call” to come over when I go into labor and we are very fortunate that she moved closer to our home earlier this year. I had originally planned to drive myself to the hospital while my husband coordinated childcare, but my ob vetoed that idea. So now, if things seem to be happening quickly, we’ll load all of the kids into the car and have her meet us at the hospital. I am hoping that my contractions start during the day or that I make it to my induction (39+3). I REALLY do not want to have a baby at home or in the car!

So there’s the unknown component to contend with now. But there is also the fear component – what is something goes wrong? What if I have a postpartum hemorrhage? What if baby has some unknown birth defect or there is another complication? Obviously, I have no control over these things and am trying not to fret about them. I am mostly at peace – trying to enjoy these last few days/weeks with my three little boys, with our family of five – loud, crazy, chaotic – but at least it is our normal and well-known. The first few weeks with our newest addition will be a period of constant adjustment.

We have tried our best to prepare for the postpartum period/fourth trimester. We will both be taking parental leave. Our nanny will help out during the day. We hired a night doula for the baby as well. I am still a bit torn on this. Some of my favorite memories are the sleepless newborn nights. I have usually slept alone with the newborn, nursing all night, watching the clock tick towards morning, waiting for the sun to rise, snoozing on the bed or couch whenever I am able to set the baby down. But, in truth, it has always been exhausting. Some nights my husband would have to watch me sleep w/ the baby cradled by my breast because we were unable to get him into his bassinet. Mornings I would be so exhausted. And the truth is, we are going to need all of the energy we can get to parent 4 kiddos through a pandemic. So we hired a night doula five nights per week. I think it will be great to have the help and two nights out of the week I can enjoy solo evening parenting! I am also hoping that working with a night doula will instill good sleep habits early on, because we have always struggled with this and only just sleep trained my youngest at 18 months!

The other huge thing happening during this waiting period is that school is finally starting for my older two. My oldest is entering kindergarten and the first trimester will be all virtual for now. I am torn on this. I don’t feel any emotional need to have him attend in person. He has been in a preschool-like environment since age 2, so I don’t feel like entering kindergarten is a huge momentous occasion. That being said, I worry that he will have a long, intense virtual schedule. The draft they sent show kids “in school” from 8-3. I am hoping this is modified for the younger kiddos because that is a LONG time to be in front of a screen. He’s also a social kid and I worry that he’s going to miss out on that aspect of school this year. And, finally, because we transferred him to a private school, I’m not thrilled to be paying tuition to have him at home! But, alas, this is the situation we are in at the moment and the most important thing is obviously keeping him, our family, his teachers, the school community and our general community healthy and COVID-free.

My second oldest is entering pre-K at this school and, because they are under different state regulations, he will be able to attend in person. I am also a bit torn on this. On one hand, he is harder to teach at home than his brother was and he is also more shy and introverted, so a place where he has rules to follow and friends to play with would be beneficial for him, I think. I also worry that he will get lost in the shuffle at home. Even with our nanny here, if one person is directing online learning all day and one person is trying to make sure our (almost) 2 year-old doesn’t crack his head open jumping off of furniture and one person is tending to a newborn, what happens to our second oldest? Will he get enough attention? Will he learn anything? These worries are counterbalanced by the very real concern that he might get or be exposed to COVID. So ultimately I can’t say that I am entirely at peace with our decision, but for the reasons listed above and some more, we have decided to start his year in-person and continually re-evaluate.

So this is the world we are bringing this baby into. Fortunately, I was able to stop seeing patients in person early on (34 weeks). I completed 2 weeks of telemedicine and then took my earliest maternity leave to date at 36 weeks. I was fortunate to not get COVID and to not be exposed to any COVID + patients during this time. Despite having just started leave – and the baby not even being here! –  I am already stressing out about going back to work. In normal times, it would be sad but doable. In pandemic times, it seems impossible. Who’s going to sit with our oldest to do distance learning if that is still happening in the new year (I believe that the whole school year will likely be remote)? How will we balance that with my second child’s pick up/drop off schedule? There is a very real possibility that I will have to scale back or modify my hours to work around these schedules.

But, for now,  I am going to try to remove worries and outstanding questions from my mind. I am going to try to enjoy one more night of sleeping through (I hope – the kids do still get up sometimes for one reason or another!) without having a newborn to feed. I am going to enjoy this next week of productivity, nesting and time with my three boys. The next time I write anything, I anticipate that our new addition will be here!

Parenting after infertility

Tuesday was my anatomy scan for my fourth child. (I know this doesn’t sound like a typical infertility post, but bear with me.) I was a nervous mess. My husband came with me but wasn’t allowed into the room because of COVID precautions. My ultrasound tech was a woman of few words, who mostly complained about having to wear her surgical mask all day (another COVID precaution).

Some women announce their pregnancies the second they know about them, with elaborate pregnancy announcements and social media posts. I’m in the other group – moms who worry every step of the way. It’s exhausting. As soon as I find out I’m pregnant I worry that I will miscarry in the first trimester (for the record: I have never had a miscarriage). I hold my breath at every ultrasound until the doctor finds the heartbeat. I worry about the results of my nuchal translucency/first trimester screen (perhaps for good reason: I have tested positive – false positive – for Trisomy 21 twice now). I hold my breath waiting for the cell-free DNA results (normal 3 of the 3 times I have had to take this test). The anatomy scan is the worst, because by 20 weeks I tend to look pretty pregnant so people know, and how would I break the news to everyone that the baby had some terrible congenital abnormality that was incompatible with life? It sounds ridiculous as I am typing this out, but this is the world inside my head. When I was pregnant with my first, I refused to wash any of the clothing we had purchased for him until late in the third trimester. I couldn’t imaging folding it all up and putting it away if something terrible happened. With each pregnancy, I have worried about the baby not moving enough. With my first I vividly recall drinking orange juice at night and jostling my belly around to get him moving. Perhaps that is why he was born a night owl! Just today I took a 5 minute break to lay on my side in bed because I hadn’t felt this baby move in some time. Last year, my best friend lost a baby at 31 weeks. It was every mom’s worst nightmare. My heart aches for her, thinking of how she waited for labor to start days after she had learned that her baby was not okay, and ultimately delivered a stillborn baby. I flew out to see her right after the birth and there were no words to remedy how unfair and cruel the world can be.

My struggles have been minimal by comparison. I had hypothalamic amenorrhea and stopped getting my period for a decade. When I got married and decided to have kids, it (surprise!) did not suddenly make an appearance. In retrospect, I can summarize the story like this: I had hypothalamic amenorrhea and started eating more, gaining weight, and working out much less in order to promote natural fertility. I eventually got pregnant with minimal assistance from a fertility clinic. My subsequent pregnancies occurred without any intervention. However, the period from May 2012 to March 2014 was so more stressful than that paragraph reflects. I had no idea why I wasn’t able to get pregnant. I knew hypothalamic amenorrhea was playing a role but what if (a) it was irreversible and (b) there was something else? What if I would never be a mom? What if I had messed up my body so much that I would never carry a baby?

Once you have had any degree of infertility, you never take being a parent for granted. My first wouldn’t sleep. He had a strong startle reflex and broke through every swaddle combination we tried. He would cry all day and night unless we held him. I remember being exhausted to the bone, crying on the phone to my friend, telling her how guilty I felt for not savoring every waking moment after everything I had been through to have him. This has been my thought process on repeat for every child and for every step of the way. Every decision I have made for them has been fueled by the knowledge that their lives may not have been if things had worked out differently.

I know how fortunate I am to have these children. Once you are pregnant with your fourth (and to some degree your third), people start commenting on your reproductive decisions. “Isn’t the world populated enough?”, “Yeah, probably not a good idea”, “Why would you have another child?”. Quite frankly, it’s rude. In the same way I was hurt and offended when I couldn’t get pregnant and people asked me when I was planning to have a baby, I am hurt and offended by these comments. I don’t push back though – I’m never going to convince people who say those words out loud to consider another viewpoint. I know how much my children mean to me and my husband, and that’s all that matters. Although I would have preferred not to have gone through those years of infertility, I am grateful that they provided me with this perspective.

Maternity leave in review

In two days I’ll return to work after my third maternity leave. That’s one job, three pregnancies, three maternity leaves and three “first days back at work”. My first post on this blog was about returning to work after my second was born (see October 2016 archives) and now here we are again! In honor of this occasion, I wanted to spend some time (kid naps allowing) to reflect on the past few weeks.

This maternity leave started earlier than planned when my contractions started the morning after my last day of work. I had been expecting at least a few days (if not weeks!) of extra time to wrap things up, but baby had other plans. I subsequently spent the first 3-4 weeks wrapping up work. I know that sounds really terrible, but it was actually okay. Everyone knows that newborns don’t sleep, so it gave me something to do in the wee hours of the night, and it was something that would definitely prevent me from dozing off with the baby. I am also fortunate to have a lot of support staff and they helped me make phone calls to patients (since that’s not something that can be done in the middle of the night!).

My husband didn’t take his paternity leave right away, so it was a bit of a whirlwind. Even though we had family helping out, if I had to do it again I would ask him to take a few weeks off in the very beginning. It would have been immensely helpful to have a bit more overnight help those first few weeks and I would have probably been able to take some daytime naps without the baby! It seemed pretty stressful for him to work while so sleep-deprived and this definitely led to more bickering than usual. Fortunately, things improved with time (and sleep!).

We briefly had a night nurse helping us out…until she fell asleep holding the baby. I couldn’t believe it. As my husband always says “why are people so bad at their jobs? You have one job – learn how to do it right!” So I guess another thing I would do differently is not hire a night nanny. Yes, it was helpful to have someone hold the baby for a few hours overnight, but I did enjoy doing the bulk of evenings since so much baby bonding happens during that time. I also found that I didn’t rest easy when she was over, perhaps because I was worried about the above. Fortunately, our little guy persevered and now his sleep isn’t as atrocious (although it is definitely nowhere near ideal for having to go back to work!).

My older kiddos have done really well with their new little brother. Toddler Y (our middle child) had a tough time those first few days, but now he is sweet as pie. One of our major challenges when I return to work will be carving out individual time for all three kids. Right now, the older kiddos have independent activities on Saturday mornings, and I plan to build onto that time.

One of the highlights of maternity leave was seeing a lot of family. My mom spent a few weeks with us right before and after Baby Z was born – not quite as long as the last time, but just the right amount of time during the hardest days. We also had both of our families visit on separate occasions and I was able to visit home twice (the last time for 3 weeks!) during maternity leave. The kids have a blast around family, so it was so nice to see everyone on multiple occasions.

Another highlight was meeting an awesome group of moms with kiddos around Baby Z’s age. I have excellent mom friends whom I met shortly after my first was born. Some had second babies so I didn’t feel the need to branch out much with Toddler Y. But this time around I knew that Baby Z would need some baby buddies and went out of my way to meet people. Well, this group of moms is just awesome, and it’s been great getting to know them.

On an organizational front, I did a TON around the house. I cleaned out the whole attic, donated and threw out a bunch of items from all throughout our home (trying to get a head start on minimalism for 2019!), made headway on two home improvement projects we have been working on, had the guest room painted, reorganized the guest room/soon-to-be Baby Z nursery, cleaned out the entire shed and organized all of the kitchen drawers. I gave away a ton of baby things we no longer needed, worked on Baby Z’s scrapbook and first-year album and also researched and toured a slew of private schools in the area. I did much of this with the baby strapped to my chest, but needed a bit of assistance for the manual labor.

Of course, the highlight of maternity leave was the hours upon hours I got to spend with Baby Z. I wore him almost constantly in a sling (now carrier) during the daytime hours. He often slept in bed with me overnight (not necessarily by choice, but we made sure the bed was as safe as possible for infant sleep) and he accompanied me to appointments, a handful of work meetings and a slew of errands. He’s an excellent eater, and I will forever be grateful to my employer for allowing me to have all of this time with him.

When I return to work, he will be about 4.5 months old. I know international readers will balk at how little that is. However, having had all of my children in the US, I feel so incredibly fortunately to have had 4.5 months of paid maternity leave, as well as the assurance that my position is stable. When I return, I’ll be able to set time aside as I wish to pump and to adjust my schedule as needed to make this year as manageable as can be. In fact, I’m returning part-time this month, and I am so very grateful to be able to rev up gradually.

I will always be sad about leaving my baby. What will it be like for him to not be strapped to my chest all day? (Honestly, probably not as bad as it will be for me!) I will worry incessantly about something going wrong while he is out of my care and I will miss his little noises and tiny fingers and sweet smile. I will stress out trying to give everyone attention in the few hours we have before work and after work/before bed. But I have faith that it will all be okay. Not easy, but okay.

Many moons ago, when I was obsessing about going back to work vs not going back to work (not really an option for me at the time but an interesting hypothetical argument) and then obsessing about daycare vs nanny, the one thing that stuck with me was reading that kids will thrive with a decision as long as the parents are happy with that decision. So I always focus on the positive aspects of my job and the positive aspects of their relationships with other caregivers.

I also have this to get me through: my older kids are alright. They’re happy little clams, in preschool now. My oldest is four. If we repeat his life cycle 4 more times, he’ll be twenty – an adult! In other words: time flies. As my children have grown, I’ve had (some) opportunity to think about who I am independent on them, how my husband and I interact independent of them, what I will do once they leave. Yes, I am not very far in and they are still very, very small and very, very dependent, but there are snippets of time when these opportunities for thought arise. When they have arisen, I have always been very happy to be working. This is what has worked and been okay for me, but it may not be the best case scenario for anyone else, and that’s okay too.

So in less than 48 hours, I’ll be waking up and changing out of my pajamas first thing. I’ll put on make-up, grown-up clothes, triple check my bags to make sure I have my work things plus my pump things, and then I’ll leave my sweet little baby behind. First I’ll have to convince my older kids (who have been out of school for three weeks!) that getting dressed and leaving the house early is also a good idea. I am not sure which of those feats will be harder! And in a few weeks time, doing this will be the new normal, and these lovely (and hard) maternity leave days will be a distant memory!

The Blob Trimester: Baby’s Z’s 1st 3 months

As my youngest (baby Z) is one week shy of 4 months, I find myself fondly reflecting on the fourth trimester haze. If you are not familiar with the term “fourth trimester”, it is common terminology for the first 3 postpartum months. Due to human anatomy and the limitations of the birth canal, human babies are born neurologically premature. Thus my rationale for (very affectionately) calling my newborn a blob.

Let’s put it this way: newborns would never survive in the wild. They can’t hold their heads up, they can’t make meaningful movements with their arms and legs, they can barely see, and they are easily surprised. They can only communicate via crying and they spend a great majority of their days sleeping, drinking milk, peeing and pooing. This is one reason why the fourth trimester is so challenging for new parents: you are suddenly in charge of keeping a small, defenseless human alive. No pressure!

Prety daunting, huh? Couple this with the fact that new parents are chronically sleep-deprived (newflash: babies don’t know the difference between day and night, so you may find yourself pulling a lot of all-nighters), moms are experiencing a hormonal hailstorm (why does everything make me cry? why am I suddenly so angry at my husband? why am I so worried about every damn thing?) and everything you previously knew about yourself has gone out the window (so long hobbies, singular focus on career, social life). Given all of the above, we might as well also call this time period the sob trimester.

Never fear, however. Between 3-4 months, everything gets easier. Yes, there are still challenges (hello 4 month sleep regression!), but your little blob has turned into a reciprocal mini-human who tracks your movements, produces wide-toothed smiles and even cackles with laughter, which makes the experience much more rewarding.

For the sake of preserving my own memories, here’s a recap of Baby Z’s first 3 months:

  • Birth: By far the best of three (third time’s the charm!). Baby X was induced and we barely made it to the hospital with Baby Y. For Baby Z, we went to the hospital as soon as contractions started and were told to walk around until they intensified. We did this for quite some time, even coming home to shower and re-pack, so by the time we returned to the hospital, it was go-time but not baby’s-about-to-fall-out time. I was able to get an epidural (thank you, modern medicine), labor peacefully and when it came time to push, he was out after basically 3 pushes with no tearing involved.
  • Sleep: We purchased a Snoo for this guy, but I wasn’t quite comfortable having him sleep in it from day one. The rocking seemed a bit intense for me and I capped it (there is a function where you can limit the motion) and have kept it as such to this day. In the beginning, he honestly mostly slept in bed with me (my husband would supervise so I didn’t roll on him) and we also lay him down in the Snoo (without turning it on) or put him in the Rock n Play (which he honestly never liked very much and also isn’t safe for unsupervised sleep). We hired a weekend night nanny for those first rough nights and she fell asleep holding the baby on the third night she worked for us! As my husband would say: WTF? YOU HAVE ONE JOB!!! That was pretty traumatic, but baby was okay and we gently told her we were no longer in need of a night nanny. I have to be honest: the sleep was pretty rough early on. He would spend a few hours up each night and I often had no idea what to do with him around 2-5am. My husband was also saving his paternity leave so I tried not to bother him since he had to work the next day. It was pretty intense. I tried to establish an early bedtime for him, but he went to sleep around 11p for a long time! Just recently (close to/when he hit 3 months), he started falling asleep around 9. Early on, he would be up cluster-feeding for quite a few hours (e.g. 8p-11p/12a) but more recently he would do a longer stretch, waking up either at 1a or 3a. So most nights he’ll wake up 1-2 times. The first nap was also the first to fall into place, as it usually does. It’s the one I can actually set him down “drowsy but awake” for! At the moment, we are traveling (good-bye Snoo!) and have him in a Pack n Play. I have to say that he’s not loving it. Last night, he was up every 2 hours, and spent the bulk of the night in bed with me. I’m not sure if this is a Snoo transition issue, a travel/change of environment issue, or the start of the 4 month sleep regression, but I don’t like it.
  • Temperament: When we first brought him home, we were a bit concerned he would be colicky like Baby X. Turns out he was just a normal newborn who wanted to be held, cuddled and carried pretty much all day. With every need attended to/preempted, he’s happy as a peach. He likes tummy time, mat time, play time (songs and the occasional book when he gets his own) and of course still loves when we tote him around all day. So far, he’s a happy, go-lucky baby who can also entertain himself independently (for now, this mostly involves staring at something in the distance).
  • Feeding: Baby Z latched pretty easily. I had one of the nurses remind me of the appropriate position when they are little blobs and can’t hold up their heads, but he quickly got the hang of it. I don’t have him on any particular schedule at the moment. He should technically be eating every 3-4 hours, but sometimes it’s less. Of all the baby things, nursing has always been fairly easy for me. Yes, it was always painful in the beginning. I enrolled in a lactation class prior to the birth of my first, worked with lactation consultants in the hospital the first two times, and also had private lactation consultant visits after the first two were born. These steps allowed me to feel more comfortable nursing. And yes, I worried ALL all of the time whether they were getting enough to eat, especially my first. Was he colicky because he was hungry? Were those tears of starvation? Did he want to nurse all of the time because he wasn’t getting enough milk? I also always pumped just enough and was worried each time about how pumping at work would turn out. Yet I was able to nurse the first two for 15 months and pumped until they were 11 months, using up my freezer stash for months 12 and 13. We’ll see what happens with this guy. I’m a bit worried because I had 187 oz and 300 oz of milk saved up for my first and second, respectively, when I went back to work, but currently have only 55 oz with only a few weeks to go (poor third child!). But I am telling myself that the freezer stash really only helped me to stop pumping a bit earlier, so it isn’t the end of the world that his is so limited. After all, every lactation consultant I’ve spoken with has said you only need enough milk for your first day back (and this is true).
  • Developmental milestones: Baby Z was quick to roll from tummy to back. I know I sound like a delusional mom saying this, but he was doing it month one and still does it to this day. He’s flailing his arms around and kicking his legs much more now. He sees well, follows you around with his eyes, smiles and laughs, has coo-ing conversations, and has started to grip things and bring them to his mouth. Actually, everything is starting to wind up in his mouth – his hands, the carrier strap, teething toys, etc. He can also reach out with his hands to swipe things hanging above him on his playmat or on one of his chairs. His neck is pretty strong and I will often place him forward-facing in the carrier (if it’s not naptime) because he likes to observe the world. He’s actually starting to show interest in food already, which seems early to me, but I’m looking forward to introducing solids.

I honestly can’t believe he’s almost 4 months and am definitely patting myself on the back for getting through those tough first few months. Work is just around the corner (a story for another day), but I feel very fortunate to have had this time with him.

 

The Village

I was recently surprised to learn that I had lost my desire to move back to New York. As recently as a few months ago, when people would ask me whether I envisioned myself staying in California forever, I used to respond with “Probably, because I don’t think I can convince my husband to live anywhere else.” Now I pause, because the answer is that I can’t quite imagine living anywhere else.

When and how did this drastic shift occur? I left New York when I was 18 years old. To be honest, I was thrilled to do so. I lived in the suburbs outside of NYC, had moved during my freshman year of high school (NOT a good situation), and was excited to “discover the world”. I floated around New England for college and medical school, and spent a requisite year living and working in NYC. When it was time for residency selection, my husband (also an East Coaster) and I were adamant that we needed to get out of the cold. He wanted to work in California and I was game to live in California and so I applied and was accepted.

We flew to the West Coast with one suitcase. (I can imagine myself telling this story to my children one day, at which point they’ll roll their eyes at this particular sentence.) We had less than $5,000 combined in our bank accounts. My husband was unemployed (“between jobs”) and I was days shy of starting my intern year. We rented a small unit in a house of four units total and decked it out in IKEA furniture. My husband bought a Samsung flat screen TV which we still own 8 years later. We weren’t married yet but reasoned that we needed to move in together because the rent was too expensive to swing two apartments. When he proposed to me, the engagement ring was the most expensive thing we owned. We didn’t have much but we were so happy.

In the past 8 years, we’ve spent 5 of them living together (we were apart for 3 years while I completed my residency), got jobs, got married, bought a house, tucked away money for retirement, had 3 kids, tucked away money for college education, and created the life we always wanted – one we could have never quite imagined when we landed in California in 2010.

Yet there were bumps in the road. I started my first job out of residency in 2014 and had a baby 3 months later. I’ve had 2 additional children since. I had no idea how difficult it would be to raise a family away from our families. It often felt impossible. I vividly remember those first colic-filled weeks with our oldest. We had help for a few of them but were on our own most of the time and I cried constantly. When I went back to work I was convinced there was no way I could juggle motherhood and my career without help. Most of our acquaintances at the time were my husband’s friends and, although mostly good people, they just weren’t my people. Is that a terrible thing to say? I hope not. You know that feeling when you just click with someone? When you can tell them anything – lay all your cards on the table, be completely vulnerable – and they will accept you wholeheartedly? Let’s just say I didn’t get that vibe from his people. And that’s what I struggled with the most – not having someone I could text frantically when our first was up at all hours of the night, not having someone I could ask to watch him for an hour while I took a breather, not having a tribe to commiserate with.

So I put myself out there. I met a group of women I now call “The Mommies”. My first mom friends! Now, the group has changed dramatically these past 4 years as moms move away and group dynamics shift, but we have each other’s backs, an ongoing calendar of events, never-ending birthday parties, and most importantly the knowledge that we have known each other since our little ones were just months old. I rekindled friendships with people from my intern year and became closer to co-workers with young children. I met more moms through preschool and subsequent “new mom” groups as more children joined our family. We acquired a network of people who have helped us out in some capacity around the house – gardeners, painters, nannies, cleaning crews, etc. Today, our nanny saw that I was clearing out our shed for some upcoming work and (unsolicited) called her husband to see if he would be willing to pick up all of the items we were throwing out to save us the hassle. He came by an hour later and I was so happy I could have cried. With such distance between ourselves and our families, these random acts of kindness mean everything.

I also have to admit that there are serious perks to living in California: great weather, tons of diversity, generally liberal politics. It’s also true that we both love our jobs and our house. But the game-changer for me was truly the evolution of our community and little village. We’ll see how we feel as the kids get older and schedules become more demanding but, for now, I am truly loving where we live, and this is the first time since 2014 that I’ve been truly able to say that.

Nervous Nellie

I’ve had anxiety most (if not all) of my life. Some of my earliest memories are anxiety-laden:

  • sitting in my father’s car while he was outside talking to my uncle, feeling worried about being alone in the car
  • in elementary school, feeling worried about a state project due in May…during the month of December
  • the night before I turned 10, feeling intense worry that I would never be 9 years old again

I could go on and on.

There were times in my life when my worry worsened. A few weeks to months each year during my childhood when I would be exponentially worried – we began to call these episodes “La Etapa” (a stage of my life). I remember the worry intensifying in high school. I moved to a new school district during my freshman year and I would feel intense dread in the morning when people loitered by their lockers since I didn’t (really) know anyone. I remember hiding in the bathroom during this time, as this was preferable to socializing. I experienced intense anxiety during freshman year of college- fear of meeting new people/would I fit in/etc. I drank too much and gained a ton of weight which only made things worse. My anxiety worsened in medical school, especially on rotations where I had less control over my schedule/time. One way of dealing with my anxiety was through food restriction and overexercising – I could have control over one area of my life, even when everything else was in disarray. I started dieting in high school, so that need has been there for a long time.

I did speak to a few people during these years. In college, someone tipped off a counselor that I may have an eating disorder, and so I started seeing her. She would weigh me facing backyards so that I couldn’t see how much I weighed. I lost more weight when I stopped weighing myself because I was afraid of gaining weight, so clearly the anxiety was still there. I then met with a psychiatrist in medical school, during my surgical rotation, because I was incredibly moody and would break down over the smallest things. I remember running to the first appointment so that I wouldn’t miss my workout that day. He started me on Celexa. I took this for a few weeks, maybe 1-3 months max? My husband (boyfriend at the time) thought it helped, but I wasn’t so sure and stopped shortly after starting. The third time I reached out to get help was when I was struggling with infertility due to hypothalamic amenorrhea. I met with a therapist a few times near my residency program, pretty much crying the entire time through those sessions. That also did not last long.

Why did I “quit” so many times? Probably because I have pretty high-functioning anxiety. It never stopped me from accomplishing my goals or having (mostly) healthy relationships. It’s an ever present background hum, but in many ways it has driven me to succeed. I excelled in school, attended an Ivy League college, graduated medical school and matched into a competitive residency. In other words, even though I personally suffered, my goals did not. I was still able to interact normally with others, connect with/take great care of my patients, and perform daily activities with little interference. However, I have recently started wondering whether things could actually be better. For years, I thought being thin had led me to succeed. Part of the fear of gaining weight was that I would lose everything I had worked for. This was obviously a lie I had been telling myself and the world did not end when I gained weight. And so I started thinking: what if life could actually be better with my anxiety under better control? What would it be like to live in the moment, to not have the ever present buzz of worry, to not feel imminent doom over every little thing?

The other tipping point was this: my 4 year old has started to show signs of anxiety and it is heart-breaking. Yes, it could be hereditary. My whole family deals with anxiety, so maybe it would have been passed on anyway. But I also wonder whether an anxious milieu of the womb or anxious parenting (my husband, too, would factor in here; although normally a very calm person, he is quite an anxious parent) had any effect. I feel intense guilt over this. Although I can’t change anything I’ve done, at the very least I can do my very best to control my anxiety as my kids begin to grow and understand more.

Finally, I think it will be good for my marriage. My husband and I love each other dearly, but our differing personalities (mine characterized by anxiety) have definitely led to some repetitive arguments.

And so I scheduled an appointment with a psychiatrist specializing in women’s health, particularly around birth and motherhood. I met with her last week and she agreed I had generalized anxiety disorder and recommended three pillars of treatment:

  1. Medication
  2. Psychotherapy
  3. Self care

She said we could do any combination, so I am started with medication and trying to incorporate self care into my life. I opted for medication because, if I am truly honest with myself, I am dog-tired. I’m tired of always worrying about everything, of making to-do list after to-do list, of constantly playing out scenarios in my head. It is absolutely exhausting. And I want to get better as fast as possible. My father, a psychiatrist, always said that medication could be incredibly helpful to patients, to normalize their brain chemistry while they utilized psychotherapy to change their thought patterns. I picked up Zoloft right after the appointment and felt a huge sense of relief as I swallowed it. Obviously all of my feelings were still there, but I was relieved to finally be doing something about it.

I am holding off on psychotherapy for now because of the time commitment, but I am trying to do some self care. My family is in town this weekend so it’s a wonderful opportunity. I am taking the time to write this, and I also scheduled a couples massage for this evening. In the past week I’ve made time for mom/baby yoga and a stroller workout class.

And so I am trying and hoping for the very best outcome here.

To have and to hold

I love weddings. It is so magical to watch people embark on their “happily ever after”. When I was single, weddings gave me hope that I would find the love of my life. When I was newly married, weddings were a joyous occasion with the knowledge that these newlyweds were as happy as we were. Now, more than half a decade into our marriage and brimming with children, weddings are a reminder of those exciting honeymoon days of a marriage. I love my husband dearly but I have to confess that marriage is very different with children than without children.

As a newlywed, my husband could do no wrong. His quirks were endearing, and I’m sure he felt the same way about mine. Now, after a full day of chasing after my toddlers and feeding/changing/rocking my baby, one of my husband’s quirks can quickly send me over the edge. After a full day with all three boys, my cup is empty, and I often feel like I have nothing to give to my husband. He too seems to need some time to unwind after the kids fall asleep. Don’t get me wrong – we love each other more than we did as newlyweds, but we have found that we need to be more intentional about conveying that love. We also need to take a step back to truly see and acknowledge one another. Most parents find that they have less time for self care once they have children and the same is true of spouse care!

When we argue, one of us may break the ice by bringing up two of the tricks we learned at our Catholic Engaged Encounter weekend, prior to our wedding. Both have always made us laugh. The first is to hold hands while arguing. If you try this, you’ll quickly learn that it is impossible to truly be angry at someone if you are holding their hands. The second is to consider whether your words are “life-giving”. If they are not, consider how they sound to the person hearing them.

We haven’t mastered the art of making time for each other since this last child was born (9 weeks ago). This is partly due to the fact that we live far away from family, but mostly due to the fact that we are exhausted. For now, we are focusing on not being short with one another, spending time together after the kids go to bed, finding joy in the mayhem, and allowing the other parent to rest when one of us feels more energized. This is about as “life-giving” as we can manage to be at the moment.